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Paper Towns
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Strange Brow"
2 stars

"Paper Houses" is the second screen adaptation of a work from best-selling YA author John Green, following on the heels of last summer's smash hit "The Fault in Our Stars." This film is certainly better than its predecessor--if only because of the lack of any scenes involving cancerous teens dry-humping inside of Holocaust-related memorials this time around--but, alas, it isn't that much better when all is said and done. It starts off on an intriguing note only to meander around aimlessly before arriving at a conclusion so frustratingly anti-climactic that it will madden anyone who has managed to stick it out to the bitter end and not even the considerable charms and talent of newcomer Cara Delevingne are quite enough to rescue the proceedings from terminal silliness and mediocrity.

As a young boy, nice kid Quentin had his world turned upside down when the free-spirited Margo moved in across the street and they became fast friends. However, they wound up growing apart over time and as their senior year in high school is drawing to a close, Quentin (Nat Wolff) is content to hang out with his two pals--nerdy Radar (Justice Smith) and horny Ben (Austin Abrams)--while marking down the days until he can graduate and go off to college while Margo (Delevingne) has become the beautiful campus queen with the jock boyfriend and a reputation for taking off to get involved in any number of wild adventures. The two wind up reconnecting one night when Margo crawls into Quentin's bedroom window to enlist his help with a series of pranks designed to get revenge on her unfaithful boyfriend, the best friend that he cheated on her with and a couple of supposedly close friends who knew about those two and chose to say nothing. Over the course of one long night, they pull off the tricks and by the time it finally comes to a close, Quentin--who has nursed a crush on Margo for all these years--is convinced that things will finally be different between the two of them at school the next day.

Quentin is right, but for all the wrong reasons because it turns out that Margo has disappeared, seemingly without a trace. Her parents seem weirdly unconcerned with her vanishing act--they assume she is just doing it for attention and will return when she runs out of money. Quentin, on the other hand, is not as willing to give up on her so quickly and after a cursory investigation, he stumbles across a couple of enigmatic clues that she appears to have left for him to find hinting towards her destination in such places as a Billy Bragg album, a copy of "Leaves of Grass" and an abandoned souvenir shop. Through these traces, he determines that she has landed in an obscure town in New York and decides to drive from their Orlando suburb up the Eastern Seaboard (no doubt fighting sharknados at every turn) in order to find her and finally proclaim his love for her. Joining him on this quest are Radar and Ben, Radar's girlfriend Angela (Jaz Sinclair) and Lacey (Halston Sage), Margo's former BFF who insists that she knew nothing about her cheating boyfriend and wants to see her in the hopes of patching things up with her and together, the gang have the usual array of misadventures and breakthroughs before arriving in New York so that Quentin can face his destiny in wholly unanticipated ways that will no doubt change his life forever and all that stuff.

The best scenes in "Paper Towns" are the early ones chronicling Quentin and Margo's long night of reconnecting while Saran-Wrapping the cars and removing the eyebrows of those who have wronged her--while some of their escapades may strain credulity, it does do an effective job of conveying the singular excitement of having the very person you have been pining over for years suddenly taking an interest in you for once. Unfortunately, once this section of the film ends, roughly a third of the way in, none of the stuff that follows comes close to living up to it. The scenes in which Quentin and his friends uncover and decipher Margo's clues seesaw between the silly and the downright implausible and the road trip sequence goes on seemingly forever without doing much of anything other than marking time before the eventual denouement. Speaking of which, the finale, in which all is explained (sort of), is such a letdown--both dramatically and emotionally--that it is little more than an exercise in frustration. I sort of understand the message that the film (and presumably Green's book as well) is trying to convey--the usual stuff about breaking free and living life to the fullest by no one's rules other than your own--but it is handled in such an awkward and unconvincing manner that the end credits tune should have been a brooding cover of the Peggy Lee classic "Is That All There Is?"

Part of the problem is that for a film like "Paper Towns" to work, the Margo character has to be so distinctly drawn and instantly compelling so that one can easily understand why Quentin would be so desperately driven to find her again after that one perfect night. This is where the movie stumbles because while Margo is beautiful and funny and charming as all get out, the screenplay by Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber does not make a similarly convincing case for her as a deep, soulful and thoughtful free spirit. Instead of taking the time to properly present her as a person who is more than just a pretty face, she is instead given a copy of "Leaves of Grass," that standard prop employed by lazy writers to suggest that a character is an unknowable free spirit who contains multitudes without actually having to demonstrate those particular traits on their own. As the film goes on, it seems to have as little of a coherent idea as to who Margo is as her friends, family or Quentin do and that all leads to the incredibly frustrating ending and while I will not spill the beans in any way (though I presume it is similar to the one found in the original book), instead of being moved or shocked or surprised by its revelations, I came away from it thinking that Quentin had dodged one hell of a bullet--I can only presume that this was not the feeling that I was meant to take from it when all is said and done.

The best thing about the film by far is the performance by British-born Cara Delevingne in the key role of Margo. If she is known to you at all, it is because she is currently one of the top models in the world and possessor of arguably the most striking pair of eyebrows since Eighties-era Brooke Shields. She has now begun drifting into acting as well--she was seen earlier this year in Michael Winterbottom's "The Face of an Angel" and has parts in such upcoming projects as "Pan," "London Fields," "Suicide Squad" and the new Luc Besson epic "Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets." I realize that the notion of a model-turned-actress will no doubt dredge up unpleasant memories of Cindy Crawford in "Fair Game" and the like but that is not the case here. The role that she has been given here is in many ways unplayable because of the deficiencies in the story but she manages to cut through most of that in ways that go beyond her undeniable beauty. She possesses an undeniable screen presence that many "real" actresses would kill for and which helps her to translate a literary conceit into an actual person, one whose presence still looms over the proceedings even during the long stretches of time when she is off the screen. Based on the evidence shown in "Paper Towns" and in the Winterbottom film, she clearly has the goods to make it as actress--here is hoping that she can use the career boost that she will presumably get from this film to become attached to material that will give her a better chance to prove that everyone.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=27758&reviewer=389
originally posted: 07/23/15 18:01:11
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User Comments

8/24/15 DillonG The movie does an admirable job of adapting the book. An enjoyable time. 4 stars
7/25/15 Bob Dog A quality mystery romance - surprisingly authentic feeling story and acting! 5 stars
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  24-Jul-2015 (PG-13)
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